BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — In honor of Black History Month, 59News is highlighting the stories of the black leaders in our communities.
Fred Simms was born in 1954 and grew up in the small town of Lester in Raleigh County. Simms said his mother, who is his hero, taught him the value of hard work and faith.
“We could not afford the ‘or’ for poor, we were ‘po,’ and so therefore my mom did a lot of praying and talking with God and I was able to observe that,” said Simms.
Simms spent 21 years as a coal miner, and after getting laid off, he found a new calling.
In 1993, Simms started Heart of God Ministries from the ground up with his wife. But not without obstacles along the way. Simms grew up during the time periods of segregation and integration. He said there were people in the community who were against opening the church, and he still sees flashes of these same problems today.
“We have overcome a lot, we have come a long ways, but we have a long ways to go. That is only going to come through teaching. That is only going to come through us understanding our history and humanity, understanding our history as a whole,” said Simms.
He said as a man of faith, it is his job to be a driving force behind changing things for the better and bringing people together.
“There is not a day that goes by that I am not concerned about the community we live in, the state we live in, our nation. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wonder what is it that I could be doing more,” said Simms.
Through his ministry and church, Simms helped establish a food pantry. They also give back in other ways, through back to school drives and scholarships for students in the community.
While he will not admit it, there are many in his congregation who consider him a role model for their children.
“I don’t know about being a role model, I like being a servant, that’s all I am. I am a servant. Martin Luther King said it best. He said anybody can be great because anybody can be a servant,” said Simms.
Simms said being a pastor is about listening to the calls that come your way. Calls from God, from the community, and from those in need. Something he learned from his step-father.
“He said son don’t say you are a preacher, be a preacher, and the being, the action part of it is more than just standing behind a pulpit, but it is making a difference in life for others,” said Simms.
During his time with the church, Bishop Simms got the chance to meet Former President Barack Obama, wrote a published book, and start churches across the country and overseas. He said none of his accomplishments can compare to how proud he is of his wife of almost 50 years, his five daughters, and his 20 grand children and great grandchildren.